Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Arts critic Bill Wyman (late of Salon, NPR, Huffington Post, etc.) has taken it upon himself to rank all 213 Beatles songs from worst to best.
The first thing I did when I saw the list was tweet, “There’s no way ‘Good Day Sunshine’ is the worst of the lot!” Wyman tweeted back, “But it is! It came in last.”
For the life of me, I can’t find a hint in his piece that these rankings are anything but his humble opinion, though he made it sound like he ran everything through some algorithm and the results don’t lie: “Good Day Sunshine” is the worst Beatles song.
I don’t know why critics are determined to do things like this. It’s fraught with danger. And there’s literally no point to it because subtle distinctions like putting “Oh! Darling” behind “Bad Boy” or “Hey Jude” at No. 20 instead of No. 10 are strictly in the mind of Bill Wyman. A thousand different Beatle lovers will have a thousand different variations.
Beatles songs are like living organisms, in a way, constantly changing, evolving as time goes by. They carry echoes of when you first heard them. They’re dripping with your own contexts. And where you might rank the songs depends heavily on how old you are. Americans who were teens in ‘64 see (and hear) the Beatles a lot differently than those of us who came of age in the ’70s, after the breakup. I was practicing a form of cultural archeology as I analyzed their lyrics in my room, trying to unearth meanings and clues and hoping to capture some of the magic contemporaries enjoyed. I would never know what it was really like when Sgt. Pepper’s came out in June of ‘67. I was only ten years old and spent my spare time making Creeple People in my brand-new Thingmaker.
Only three years later I was wearing out my Pepper’s LP on a cheap record player with speakers placed on either side of my head.
When I hear “Good Day Sunshine,” I imagine listening to Revolver in our living room with my buddy Fred and my mom, and watching Mom’s face light up over that song — one of the ones she liked. Sure, maybe it’s a typical McCartney toss-off, but it’s catchy and my mom loved it. It’s not the worst Beatles song in my book.
Wyman says “A Day in the Life” is the best Beatles song, on the other hand, which is hard to argue with because it’s in many ways the prototypical Beatles song, with contributions from both Lennon and McCartney. It features revolutionary recording and engineering techniques, has a lot of myth and legend surrounding it (“he blew his mind out in a car”), and rises to that awesome crescendo and crashing piano chord that sustains forever. It’s also probably the pinnacle of their recording career, since they started unraveling as a band after that and phoned in a lot of Magical Mystery Tour and The White Album. (Wyman rightly throws a lot of songs from the latter into the bottom fifty of his list.)
Bizarrely, he ranks “She’s Leaving Home” at No. 204, i.e., one of the very worst. He sticks “Dear Prudence” at No. 6, i.e., one of the very best. The former is an exquisitely drawn story-in-song with poignant lyrics and an interesting melody (at the very least), while the latter feels like something Lennon wrote in about ten minutes — after Donovan taught him how to fingerpick in India. (“The sun is up/the sky is blue/it’s beautiful/and so are you.”) Calling Hallmark!
And yet I love “Dear Prudence,” not for its inherent qualities, which are sparse, but for its place in my experience and heart, the for way it’s born out of the end of “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and yields to “Glass Onion.” One must never put a Beatles album on shuffle play. On its own, it’s a song that rises and falls in my esteem, but Side 1 of The White Album wouldn’t be the same without it. Still, it’s not the sixth best Beatles song of all time. Is it?
I’m sure Wyman’s getting bombarded with vitriol since his piece came out, but he must have had a hell of a time listening to all that great music again and reliving the moments of his own life when the songs got under his skin.
In the same vein, here’s a list of books that Barnes & Noble claims are destined to become classics. Oy.
[Title, by the way, via song No. 112.]